A chat with David Cross, David Cross interview, Bigger and Blackerer,
David Cross

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When last we chatted with David Cross, he was helping to promote a new online series (“Pilot Season”) and talking up the impending release of his first book, I Drink for a Reason. This time, he’s trying to get the word out about his new comedy special, “Bigger and Blackerer,” which makes its debut on the new EPIX network before emerging as a CD/DVD package in May 2010. During the course of our conversation, we talked about his hope that the kids who know him from his work in the “Chipmunks” movies will someday make his albums go platinum, took some time to discuss religion, the health care bill, and which political party has the worst sense of humor. He also touched on “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret” getting a US pick-up and the way Adult Swim treated “Icelandic Ultra Blue.”

Bullz-Eye: Hey, David!

David Cross: Hey, Will, how are you?

BE: I’m good, thanks. Happy belated birthday to you.

DC: (Laughs) Thank you! You’re the first one!

BE: Yay, me! (Laughs) Well, I loved the new special.

DC: Oh, thank you very much!

BE: So who was the young gentleman who kicked off the proceedings?

(Writer’s note: the special begins with a young boy taking the stage, wearing what can only be described as a David Cross costume, and beginning to deliver Cross’s routine in a surprisingly strong approximation of his delivery.)

"I was very surprised, but I’m happy (the health care bill) was passed, certainly because I think the idea is valid and valuable, but also because it’s going to be a very, very important piece of legislation and there’ll be a point where, in the coming years, people will say, 'See? You were wrong to be this hyperbolic and hysterical about this, and if you were that wrong about this, then maybe you should go back and seriously rethink some of your obstinance on these other ideas.'"

DC: Uh, that was me. Yep. I put a little bit of beard cover on, and… (Laughs) No, he was a kid that…we were doing that in every city, where we’d have a different kid come out and do that. I think he was from Portland. I’m pretty sure. Or maybe Milwaukee, actually. Maybe was from Milwaukee. But, anyway, I didn’t want to fuck around and take a chance when we were doing the Boston show, ‘cause that was going to be taped, so I flew him out from Milwaukee. Or Portland. Wherever he was from. But, yeah, we did that in every city at every show, with a different kid.

BE: So what gave you the idea to do that bit? And, for that matter, the bit where a deaf member of the audience stands up and begins to do jokes in sign language?

DC: The kid thing…I can’t remember where I thought of that. I just…thought of it. I don’t remember where. But the deaf thing…I used to do a show with Jon Benjamin and Todd Barry, a live show in New York, called Tinkle, and we did a big benefit show in Seattle with Showbox, and that was a bit, an idea which I came up for Tinkle. It kind of works better, unfortunately, with three people, but it was something we did where we had this girl, Laura Kraft, actually do it for almost 15 or 20 minutes before we even noticed her and broke it down. It was really pretty awesome. And then we had another guy in the audience who was deaf and who was insulted, and…it was great. So, anyway, it’s a variation on that.

BE: The discussion of health care in the special is now particularly relevant. What did you yourself think about the passing of the health care bill?

DC: I was very surprised, but I’m happy it was passed, certainly because I think the idea is valid and valuable, but also because it’s going to be a very, very important piece of legislation and there’ll be a point where, in the coming years, people will say, “See? You were wrong to be this hyperbolic and hysterical about this, and if you were that wrong about this, then maybe you should go back and seriously rethink some of your obstinance on these other ideas.” But then you’re arguing with the same kind of people who, forty years ago, said the same thing about civil rights legislation. That’s a mentality that you have to change…and this is a good way to change that kind of mentality.

BE: As soon as the bill was passed, several of my friends on Facebook immediately joined a group called “Health Care Passed? Let’s Move!”

DC: Yeah? To where? ‘Cause every other place has fucking nationalized social medicine and health care systems. Where are they going to move to?

BE: There was no real specification on that matter.

DC: Because there can’t be. There’s no place to move! Every other place has it! Where are they going to move to? The moon?

BE: You’re not afraid to make disparaging comments about any political party, but do you think that Republicans have less of a sense of humor than Democrats?

David CrossDC: Oh, God, no. The opposite. I mean, as far as the extremists go, it’s Liberals and Progressives who have probably the worst sense of humor when it comes to evolved, smart-thinking people. They’re way overly PC, and they can’t or don’t find the humor in the things that you might joke about. Again, I’m talking about the extremists, but…

BE: I thought your bit in the special about the Bible being the oldest game of “Telephone” was hilarious.

DC: That is a good one, isn’t it? I came up with that mid-tour, actually. I just sort of wrote that on stage one day.

BE: And the thing about it is that it’s so on the money from a historical standpoint that I’d think that even some people who are religious who can appreciate the accuracy of it.

DC: Yeah, I would hope so.

BE: Obviously, you’re pretty well established as being skeptical of organized religion, to say the least…

DC: And, Will, that is to say the very least.

BE: (Laughs) True enough. Are you ever surprised when people who are religious tell you that they think your routines about religion are funny?

DC: Yeah, I actually am. But it’s always heartening. It’s nice when people can say, “I don’t agree with that, but I get why it’s funny.”

(At this point, the interview took a brief detour…which is to say that David – who was in a car at the time of our conversation – suddenly began to battle in earnest with his vehicle’s GPS system. Someone else was actually driving, but although she had attempted to turn off the system earlier, she hadn’t succeeded. At first, there is much laughter over the fact that the system is yelling at them, but it finally reaches a point where they decide to call and have it disconnected remotely. In the end, they just turn down the volume to the point where they can’t hear it, which then leads to a back-and-forth about how to actually get where they’re going now that the GPS is no longer involved in the discussion.)

DC: I’m sorry, Will. Has this at least been entertaining for you? (Laughs)

BE: The specifics will remain off the record, but the memories will last a lifetime.

DC: Okay, great.

BE: Do you secretly – or perhaps unabashedly – wait for the day when the kids who’ve discovered you in the “Chipmunks” movies and your other family films discover your comedy albums?

DC: Oh, God, yeah. I hope to go platinum by the time I’m 100. It’s all part of the plan. Reel ‘em in with the “Chipmunks” thing, and then when they’re 15, it’s time for the subversive stuff.

BE: Were you happy with how I Drink for a Reason turned out?

"As far as the extremists go, it’s Liberals and Progressives who have probably the worst sense of humor when it comes to evolved, smart-thinking people. They’re way overly PC, and they can’t or don’t find the humor in the things that you might joke about."

DC: Yeah. I learned some valuable lessons putting that book together. It was…I think it was, pretty easily, the most difficult and frustrating thing I’ve ever done creatively. It was much harder to generate that material that way than I anticipated. I thought it would be more, like, “Okay, well, I’ll just do this,” and it wasn’t. I mean, it was good, but it just wasn’t easy. The process wasn’t fun, really.

BE: I know there have been at least tentative discussions about writing a second book. Is that really in the cards, or are you over it now?

DC: Well, they’d like me to, but I’m not really looking to tackle that kind of thing just yet. And, plus, I’m kind of…I’m not as good, creative-wise, at multitasking. I like to really concentrate on one thing and just do that, ‘cause my head starts…I start filtering information through either a stand-up brain or a book brain or a TV show brain, and right now I’m working on this show, so I tend to think about things that way, as opposed to how something would be onstage or on paper.

BE: Speaking of “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret,” I understand that’s now been picked up for a US airing.

DC: Yeah, it’s going to be on IFC in October, and I’m very, very excited about it. There’s a sense of accomplishment, I suppose, in that I’m doing this thing that’s successful in the UK, and I’m really happy with the scripts. They’re really funny, and I wish I wasn’t playing Todd Margaret, because the other characters are so much fun. Todd Margaret’s fun, but some of the other ones…I’m jealous of those guys. But the scripts are great, and I’m really, really proud of them. I really am.

BE: I interviewed Megyn Price the other day…

DC: She’s awesome. Yeah, she’s great, a really good person.

BE: I don’t know if she told you about how her story about the two of you going to see “Footloose” is one of my favorite interview moments of all time.

DC: (Laughs) Oh, yeah. We started drinking immediately. It was so bad. It wasn’t quite bad enough to be good, but there were several bad elements to it. It was pretty gay.

BE: She told me about how you were busted by the kid who saw you there and said, “I thought you were cool.”

DC: That I don’t remember. I have clearly blocked that out of my mind.

BE: She said you immediately leapt to defend yourself, saying, “No, no, I’m here ironically!”

David CrossDC: (Laughs) Yeah, right. Well, I would hope that would be self-evident, but you never know.

BE: Shut Up, You Fucking Baby made the Top 100 Albums of the Decade for Popdose.com…

DC: It did? Really?

BE: It did. I wrote up the entry for it, in fact. I said, “You’ll wince repeatedly, but you’ll still laugh heartily.”

DC: Oh, good!

BE: Are you happy with the way that record has held up since its release?

DC: Very. Very much. I mean, I am happy, also, that I was able to do the follow-up album (It’s Not Funny), and now this special and subsequent CD/DVD and approach the set differently. But I’m very happy that there’s a record of that kind of stand-up. I just don’t do that anymore. That was…I was going out and I was drinking non-stop, y’know, starting from before the show, and I’d do a two to three hour show…a minimum of 2 hours, but usually 3…and I was just drinking all the time. It’s…well, sloppy, frankly. But it was fun. It was a really fun show, and I’m glad there’s a record of that. But, in turn, I’m also glad that you can see a difference between the two types of approaches to the set.

BE: Is it true that you signed to Sub Pop because Tad was on the label?

DC: (Bursts out laughing) Did I say that?

BE: No, you didn’t, but I’ve seen you reference them in interviews.

DC: I’m a big 8 Way Santa Fan. C’mon, I matched you at your own reference!

BE: Absolutely. Nice work. Seriously, though, was it the albums that Sub Pop released during the late ‘80s that sold you on the label?

DC: Well, that certainly made it attractive, but the people there are just the coolest. I’m still good friends with them, and whether I put another CD out or not, we hang out whenever I’m in Seattle and they’re all really great people. Megan Jasper will come to New York and we’ll hang out. They’re just really good, decent folks, all of them there. It’s just really cool.

BE: I talked to Bob (Odenkirk) in January, and he mentioned the possibility of reuniting with you to do some sort of tour in the future. Is that still looking viable?

DC: Bob and I would love to work together again. We had a blast doing "David's Situation" (the failed HBO pilot) and approached HBO about doing a sketch show with them but we haven't heard back from them about that yet. It's been two years. Should we stop waiting? Probably. But we will definitely do something somewhere for somebody sometime in the future. Maybe in outer space. With robots. And Martians!

BE: I’m sure we’re coming up against the wall, but to close, I wanted to ask you about the Icelandic Ultra Blue commercial that you did for Adult Swim. What were the origins of that piece, and how did it come to fruition?

DC: Jon Benjamin, who I have worked with in the past on a number of projects, had this idea for…well, basically, he had this Icelandic Ultra Commercial idea, and he asked me to help him with this, and together we came up with a couple of scripts and sort of the idea that it kept peeling back another layer of…you know, each infomercial would trip into the next one and become a commercial for that product itself. So we got together and wrote them up, and we pitched it to Adult Swim, who loved it, then hated it, then really loved it, and then hated it again. I was bummed out. I actually watched it for the first time on TV…you know, outside of an editing booth…only about three weeks ago, and it was fucking funny! I’m really bummed out. We have another script for it, and I’m really bummed out that they didn’t pick it up, because that would’ve been fun.

BE: I found it on YouTube, actually, and hadn’t seen it when it originally aired, but it’s hilarious.

David CrossDC: Yeah, and the whole point of it...the guy at Adult Swim fucked up, I think intentionally…was that it was actually called “Paid Programming,” and it was only going to air between 3 to 5 AM, and we just wanted people to come across it and go, “What the fuck is this?” I mean, we had no credits, you don’t see my name or Jon’s name anywhere, we’re not in it, and there’s nobody recognizable in it, so the whole point was for people to go, “Did you see this thing? It was on at 3 AM, it was paid programming, it’s some product, but…I don’t get it.” It would’ve been great. It could’ve been really, really cool. But they completely fucking flushed that down the toilet.

BE: So would it have been a different infomercial every week?

DC: It would always have been the same product, but it would’ve been different commercial spoofs within it. It would’ve always been Icelandic Ultra Blue, and each time there would’ve been a little more detail about who the nefarious people behind Icelandic Ultra Blue are and what their mission really is. We had this whole thing worked out, but they totally fucked us.

BE: D’oh. All right, David, it’s been great talking to you again, and good luck with the special on EPIX.

DC: Well, thank you, man. I appreciate it.

BE: Oh, and before you go, a friend of mine wanted me to tell you that he still laughs every time he sees the episode of “Just Shoot Me,” specifically, when you say, “Chicken pot, chicken pot, chicken pot piiieeeeeee!”

DC: Oh, how sweet. Well, give him a kiss for me, and be sure to suck his dick.

BE: I’ll, uh, give him your best.

DC: (Laughs) Thanks, man!

“Bigger and Blackerer" premieres on EPIX on Saturday, April 10th, but if you want to check it out early (or if you don’t have access to the network on your cable or satellite system), you can sign up for a weekend pass to EpixHD.com by clicking here.

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